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The magic art of gardening

Tucked behind the South-Eastern Freeway at Crafers, Lynn Elzinga-Henry’s two and a half acre garden is a wilderness retreat that she says is good for “wellbeing”.

Winding paths reveal secret gardens behind hedge walls, while colourful glass art glimmers in the sunlight, peaking out from behind an eclectic mix of natives, succulents, fruit trees, flowering bulbs, bamboo and medicinal herbs.
A textile artist who learned her craft in the 1970s working in a Japanese kimono factory, Lynn’s terraced garden, which she has dubbed Garden of Excentrix, was inspired by a desire to create a “magic” space.
I’ve always had a very vivid imagination and as part of my work as an artist I like to create little areas,” she said.
“So I always planned that and the way I garden is I’d start work on an area and when it didn’t work out I’d go to another area.
“But I always had a vision in my mind.”

Describing her garden as “wild and full of surprises”, Lynn compares it to the UK’s Lost Gardens of Heligan – which were abandoned after WW1 before being rediscovered in 1990.
“There are rooms – that sounds a bit formal, but the hedges make lots and lots of different little rooms and there’s many micro-climates,” she said.
“You can’t see all of the garden or much of it from anywhere – every time you turn a corner there’s a new area.”

Lynn moved to the two and a half acre property with her husband, Rob, two weeks before the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires which decimated the Adelaide Hills and are still remembered as some of the most devastating in Australia’s history.
The fire ripped through their property, leaving the home almost untouched, but destroying everything else in its path.
Just weeks later Easter lily bulbs, which had lain dormant beneath the soil’s surface, began to sprout – vibrant green shoots dotted between the grey ash film and charred tree trunk spikes.

But it would be almost two years after those first green shoots peaked above the surface before Lynn and Rob had removed the scars of the fire from their property and begun creating their own retreat.
Lynn’s philosophy is to choose plant species that have purpose beyond their aesthetics – like medicinal herbs and fruiting trees – and work with the land to create a haven that is able to thrive without human intervention.
“I wanted my garden to have the permanence – to have really good bones so even if it was abandoned for many years you could still come back and see the fundamental structure and the majority of plants would have managed to survive.
“I have that philosophy if seedlings come up, if possible, I’ll try to keep them, because they’ve decided that’s a good place to grow, so who am I to say no.”

“I really don’t have a desire to make the garden appear formal.”
Presiding over the front of the property is an imposing decades-old oak tree, which was pronounced dead after the Ash Wednesday fire, but later sprung back to life.
Now the centrepiece of the front “room” of the garden, the tree is believed to have sprouted from an acorn brought from England by the then-Prince George – later King George V – when he visited South Australia with his wife Mary in 1901. “Ours is particularly beautiful because the trunk has separated at one point and then come together again at one point to form a little window.”
“It’s the most beautiful oak – the last to have the leaves fall and the first to get them and it has a canopy that covers a huge area that’s beautiful and cool in summer.

“But as you look up underneath each of those big branches they’re burnt, so they’ve got scars, so it just makes it more interesting.”
In bygone years Lynn and Rob have opened their gates to the public through the Open Gardens Scheme.
But while ill health means she no longer spends as much time working in her garden – or welcoming visitors – it’s still a place of retreat.
“Just being out in the garden inspires me,” she says.
“Even when I’m unwell, because I am unwell a lot, I can just walk around the garden – which I do every day – and just little things pop up and it’s really good for your feeling of wellbeing.”

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